March 14, 2016
A website is your pharmacy’s digital storefront. Having one is not only a smart marketing move; it’s necessary for success.
“Consumers are looking for information online before even walking through the doors of a brick-and-mortar,” said Nicholas Deuro, web developer and founder of nickpc, a company that offers custom website design and development. “The biggest mistake businesses make with websites is that they look at them as a luxury as opposed to a necessity.”
If potential patients can’t find your website, it raises a red flag.
“If someone can’t Google you, then they might not trust that you’re a legitimate business, especially in pharmacy,” said Kellie Paxton, art director of print and web at PBA Health, a pharmacy services organization that also offers marketing services to independent community pharmacies, including website design and development.
Websites also offer other business benefits. They act as low-cost advertising, provide readily available information to patients 24 hours a day and can improve workflow by answering simple questions about your pharmacy so you don’t have to.
Most of all, having and maintaining a quality website can grow your business. “That initial good impression is what could translate a potential viewer into a potential customer,” Deuro said.
Whether you’re starting from scratch or in need of an update, investing time and resources into your pharmacy’s website is a smart business decision.
Every small business website needs certain features and information.
Including basic information, such as your phone number, email address, physical address and store hours, is a must.
Drew Tonsmeire, area director of the University of Georgia (UGA) Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., suggests making your address available as a map.
“A lot of people could be new to your community, or just visiting, and they’re in need of a pharmacy that they’re not regularly using, so just an address isn’t enough,” Tonsmeire said. A digital map that syncs with users’ phones will provide them with instant directions to your pharmacy.
“Remember, people can land on any page of a website, so that information for phone number, address and location has to be on every page,” Tonsmeire said. Other must-dos include answering basic questions about your business such as, “Who are you? What does your business do? When do you do it? Where do you do it? And, why do you do it?” Paxton said.
Also, make any extra benefits and features of your website clear to users.
“Do you write a newsletter once a month? Do you provide coupons for opportunities to get lower-cost items from your store?” said P. Simon Mahler, chapter chair of the Mid-Columbia Tri-Cities SCORE in eastern Washington, a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses through mentoring in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Your website should be simple, clear and user-friendly. “You want to make sure that as users are browsing through the site they’re not trying to scrounge up information,” Deuro said. It should be simple to use, and have consistent colors, textures and themes. Consistency ensures that users feel like they’re on the same website, even as they click from page to page, he said.
Keep content simple, make sure everything on the page has a reason and don’t try to overload users with content. “When websites are poorly designed and developed, they can create barriers,” Paxton said.
Finally, Deuro said that every website needs a call to action, which is a specific request you want users to do, such as to call your pharmacy, visit your pharmacy or transfer their prescriptions.
All of the experts agree that making your website mobile responsive is a top priority.
“Now more than ever, people view sites on phones, iPads®, laptops and desktop computers,” Paxton said. You have to be prepared for any device.
“No matter what kind of device visitors use to look at your website, you want to make sure you’re giving them the best possible result,” Deuro said.
Mobile responsiveness can even affect your website’s search ranking. In April 2015, Google added mobile responsiveness as a factor in its algorithm that determines the order of search results, Deuro said.
A website, even if it’s only a few years old, might be lower in search results if it isn’t mobile responsive. Even if the user isn’t searching on a mobile device.
Tonsmeire warns that ranking just a few listings lower can hurt chances of patients finding you.
“They’re not going to go deep in their search,” Tonsmeire said. Users will go one or two pages at most to find what they’re looking for. If your pharmacy’s website isn’t there, you may lose patients to the competition.
The importance of mobile responsiveness is only expected to grow. “It won’t be too long before people start asking the question, ‘What’s a PC?’” Mahler said.
Another essential feature for a successful website is analytics.
“Google Analytics is a tracking code that tracks visitors to your site. It gives you an idea of how many visitors you have per day, what pages they go to and look at, how long they’re on a page, and what pages they came from,” Tonsmeire said. “It’s probably one of the best tracking tools out there and it’s absolutely free.”
Deuro said this information can help you make strategic decisions to improve your website.
“We could actually look at the site, see what works, what doesn’t work, and start tailoring it in a positive direction that will not only benefit the pharmacy, but the end user, too,” Deuro said.
If you need a new website, or if it’s time to redesign and update your current site, you face a complex decision— hire a professional or do it yourself?
“The decision to do it yourself or do it with outside resources lies in the three T’s: time, talent and treasure,” Tonsmeire said. “What do you have time to do? What do you have the talent to do? What do you have the money to do? And, so you have to really assess your own situation.”
Most small businesses Tonsmeire works with have more time than treasure, so they spend more time and effort making their own website with a template platform.
“Ultimately the cheaper it is, the more time it’s going to take,” Tonsmeire said. “It can be an inexpensive template to begin with, but you’re going to have to take the time to build it, and then have a plan for keeping it updated.”
If you want to build your own website, most of the experts recommend using a template-building platform, such as Wix.com, Squarespace or WordPress.com.
Vivian Hernandez, marketing communications manager at Wix.com, a web development platform with more than 78 million users, said templates make websites simpler for small businesses.
“Small business owners already face so many challenges that creating and managing a professional online presence shouldn’t be one of them,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said Wix.com allows users to create websites using a code-free, drag-and-drop editor for hundreds of templates, or from scratch.
But Paxton cautions that it’s not always simple.
“It’s very easy to get caught up in the idea that it’s easy to just purchase a template and build your own website,” Paxton said. “It is possible. It’s just not as simple as it sounds.”
Turning your vision into a reality can be difficult, and some templates may be unable to support features you want, such as online refills.
“If you happen to have an expert designer and developer on staff at your pharmacy, then go for it, but that’s not often the case, especially in independent pharmacies,” Paxton said.
Contracting website work out to a professional may cost more, but it can save you valuable time and effort.
“A lot of people think they can do it themselves and that’s fine, but as with any type of technical field, or highly developed skill, by allowing someone else to do it, you’re going to save yourself a lot of valuable time, energy and frustration,” Deuro said.
Templates might provide the necessary tools, but Deuro said you might not have the skills to create what you envision.
“Much like if you’re going to repair my car, you can go out and buy a toolbox, but if you don’t know what to do with those tools you’re kind of left by yourself,” he said.
Deuro said hiring an expert often creates a more professional-looking result, and simplifies the process. “So you can focus on running your business and doing what you do best,” he said.
The biggest hurdle to hiring a professional is often the cost. “A lot of small businesses don’t have a budget specifically for a website,” Deuro said.
Cost varies depending on if you’re starting from scratch or if you need a redesign. The functions, features, and technology you need, such as e-commerce, and if you’re willing to maintain the website yourself, also factor in.
To save money and ensure that you’re getting the best support possible, Mahler recommends shopping around for professionals. “Look at the big markets,” Mahler said. “They’re all competing, so they’ve got to be affordable.”
Mahler also suggests pharmacies check with their area SCORE office. Some locations offer small businesses free or discounted website design and development services.
Local businesses are another option. “Find somebody in your town, so you can sit face-to-face,” Tonsmeire said. “Support local small businesses in your community and reach out to them.”
In the long run, Tonsmeire said, you’ll benefit from a local business’s customer service. “I have never heard anybody brag about how cheap their site was,” he said. “It’s always about service. Having a webmaster halfway around the world in a different time zone, or in a different language, usually creates more problems than solutions.”
Ultimately, Tonsmeire said it’s important to remember that, “the cheapest site is not always the best site.”
If patients can’t find your website, it might as well not exist.
Start by making sure your site shows up in search engine results, also known as search engine optimization (SEO). “SEO is how online providers like Google, Yahoo and Bing can actually find your website,” Deuro said.
Deuro said his clients often ask why their website doesn’t show up while searching for specific keywords. For example, a pharmacy in Madison, Wis., that specializes in diabetes might not show up in the results for the search, ‘drugstore with insulin.’
“It’s because we don’t actually see that on your website,” Deuro said. “If the content isn’t there on your website, there’s no way for a search engine to harvest that information.”
Tonsmeire said websites should use the language patients use. For example, do your patients call your business a ‘drugstore’ or a ‘pharmacy’? “Think about what patients use and include those kinds of words on your site,” he said.
Including the name of your neighborhood and other recognized geographical landmarks can boost your website’s ranking. For example, you can help patients find your website by including relational geographic descriptions, such as located ‘downtown,’ ‘just a couple of blocks off campus,’ or ‘near the hospital.’
Also, contact anyone who refers patients to you currently, such as physicians, and ask them to post a link to your website on their website and social media pages. “Look at those kind of natural referrals you would normally have and see if you can make those electronic as well,” Tonsmeire said.
If you want to use advertising to grow your website’s traffic, Tonsmeire suggests pharmacies target specific areas or groups of people, such as people in your zip code or people interested in your sports nutrition products. “The thing about Internet advertising is you actually do better targeting a smaller audience,” he said.
To build traffic, your website needs consistent promotions. Include your website on all emails you send, and on your social media profiles. “Have a Twitter, have a LinkedIn profile, have a Facebook page, and then start getting content on there to drive people to your website,” Mahler said.
The most effective websites have something in common: They stand out.
“How do you make yourself unique? By making yourself look like the expert,” Mahler said. Whether you’re a diabetes expert or a sports nutrition guru, highlight your special skills on your website.
You can also include customer testimonials, endorsements from health care partners, or links to publications you’re featured in.
Websites offer a great platform for establishing and highlighting your expertise because you control the outlet. “It’s a completely owned space, that lets you craft your narrative, present your brand exactly the way you want, and validate your business,” said Hernandez of Wix.com.
Non-pharmacy websites are a great source of ideas for ways to distinguish your pharmacy from the competition. Adapt techniques, features or ideas that you like from non-pharmacy websites and add them to yours.
“There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel,” Mahler said. “You’re reinventing your industry by being different because you’re studying a different industry.”
One of the biggest mistakes pharmacies make with their website is not updating it.
“They think once you build it you’re done, and that’s not true,” Tonsmeire said. “You need to be thinking about a plan to add new content, new ideas and new information.”
Leaving out-of-date pictures or inaccurate information on your website gives visitors a bad impression of your business.
To keep content fresh, Tonsmeire suggests thinking about questions patients ask. “Those kind of questions you hear from your customers become great content to add to a website,” he said. Small businesses, such as pharmacies, should expect to spend about one to two hours per month updating their website.
It’s not just your content that needs to be maintained. “If they’re not staying on top of their website’s management system, theme code, third-party plugins and modules or other software, that could leave your site open to automated attacks and hacking,” Deuro said. After a couple of years, a website’s technology can become out-of-date, which can leave the website vulnerable.
“It’s completely possible to manage it yourself, but a lot of people don’t realize the amount of time that needs to be invested to actually ensure that your website is operating at peak efficiency,” Deuro said.
Every few years, Paxton said your website design will need an overhaul. “Trends are always changing and you don’t want to look dated,” she said.
Maintenance and updates are a never-ending part of websites. “Don’t just give up and call it good. Always be looking for ways to improve,” Mahler said.
Ultimately, a website is a tool to get new patients and bolster business.
“You can reach a much broader-based market to attract more potential business, which ultimately increases your revenues,” Mahler said.
Transform your website traffic into foot traffic by compelling users to act. “Your website has to be enticing,” Tonsmeire said. “When they click to your site, what’s going to entice them to come to your store?”
Don’t give away all of the possible information online. “Bait the hook, set the line out there, and give them a reason to call you and ask you questions,” Mahler said. “If you write all the information on your homepage or on your about page, you get no wiggle room for people to want to call.”
With the right content, a website can attract repeat visitors and loyal patients.
“Create reasons why people need to visit your website, and then sit back, enjoy and watch your business grow,” Mahler said.
When it comes to websites, there’s no shortage of technical terms and jargon. Here’s a look at some common terms you may encounter as you create and maintain your pharmacy’s website.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It refers to how search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, index your website, and how you can improve your ranking by using strategic keywords.
A template is a pre-designed webpage that you can customize with your own text, pictures and other content.
Plugins are software modifications that you can add to a website or template. An example is a feature that enables visitors to chat with you directly.
Traffic is another word for the users who visit your website. It’s measured in unique monthly visitors, which means the number of devices that visited your website.
47 – Percent of small businesses don’t have a website
93 – Percent of small business websites are not mobile compatible
70 – Percent of small business website have no call to action
97 – Percent of consumers look online for local products and services
70 – Percent of smartphone owners have connected with a local business after a search